Sunday, 25 June 2017

Dartmoor: Tors and Rocks from Bedford Bridge to Double Waters

Continuing along the Walkham
The Walkham

Today was a scorcher, and I made the sensible decision to pick out a gentle river walk, somewhere with ample opportunity to dip my hat and cool down. I parked up at Bedford Bridge, south of Tavistock; I had planned to start from Grenofen Bridge but I missed the turning and so lengthened my walk.

Leaving the clearing by the car park, where multitudes gathered to sunbathe and paddle in the gentle Walkham, I was soon away on my own. I followed a path close to the river, not the one marked but I held out hope it would see me to Grenofen. There was a moment where the bank split and I considered I had made a mistake, but hopping over a shallow stream I was back on path.

Thinking I may have took a wrong turn (I didn't)
Thinking I may have taken a wrong turn (I didn't)
Fox Gloves in all their glory at the moment.
Foxgloves in all their glory at the moment

Fox Glove
Foxglove

Tranquil Walkham
Tranquil Walkham

It was an unexpected delight to stroll out of the trees and find myself below the impressive Gem Bridge. This two hundred metre long structure is part of the twenty-one mile Drakes Trail and spans the Walkham where an old viaduct once stood. It was opened in 2012, its modern style blending comfortably with the beautiful valley.

Gem Bridge over the Walkham
Gem Bridge

Grenofen Bridge
Grenofen Bridge
Further on, I came to the much older Grenofen Bridge. I've wanted to do this section ever since reading about it in "Legends, Superstitions, and Sketches of Devonshire" by Mrs Anna Eliza Bray. 

Written in 1836, I wonder if the walk has changed dramatically. Of Double Waters she wrote; "The junction of the rivers Tavy and Walkham, at a wild romantic spot called the Double Water, deserves notice. In its kind, it is one of the most beautiful scenes I ever beheld: so, indeed, is the whole of the valley leading to the Double Water."

That particular scene was for later, for now I crossed the bridge, leaving the National Park, who's boundary is the other side of the Walkham, where I began to encounter the remains of both a disused quarry and West Down Copper Mine.

Beside the old mine track retaining wall
Beside the old mine track retaining wall

Much of the ruins were being reclaimed by nature; walls covered by moss and lichen, while the river was constant, tranquil and as beautiful as it has, likely, always been.

Continuing along the Walkham
Continuing along the Walkham

I left the river path, now more interested in the wooded slopes of West Down, which, according to Mrs. Bray, held plenty of outcrops to discover; "The adjacent hills are lofty, often abrupt; here and there wooded or broken in their sides, presenting a surface of crag and cliff, partially covered with lichen and ivy. In these recesses the ravens make their nests; and the rocks are frequently found of the wildest forms, such as Salvator himself would have chosen as a suitable scene for the haunts of his banditti."

I see no mention of the mine in her description and I am struggling to find when it was in use. If it existed in 1836 then she surely must have encountered it as you cannot miss, for instance, the large chimney. If anyone has any information on dates regarding West Down Copper Mine, please leave a comment.

Chimney from the West Down Copper Mine
Chimney from the West Down Copper Mine

A little further along the path, a huge outcrop rears up from the side of the hill. Mrs. Bray continues; "The noblest of these piles is called the Raven Rock; no doubt from the many birds of that tribe which harbour in it. This, when seen at twilight, with the river rolling and foaming but a few yards from its base, has an effect that acts powerfully on the imagination. In the days of superstition I can well believe it might have been deemed the haunt of pixies and spirits, that make their rings in the greensward at dusk, and lead poor travellers astray, "laughing at their harms.""

Raven Rock (Walkham) - eastern side
Raven Rock (Walkham) - eastern side

I have little doubt this is the Raven Rock mentioned by Mrs. Bray. The Ordnance Survey, however, places it a couple of kilometres further to the west, and not on the River Walkham, but the River Tavy, a short distance passed the Virtuous Lady Mine. Given their habit of misnomers on Dartmoor maps, I tend to favour that this is the correct outcrop. I later found William Crossing mentioned its location in his Guide to Dartmoor; "Overlooking the Walkham above the confluence are Buck Tor and the crag known as Raven Rock. Below the confluence is the Virtuous Lady Mine.."

I ascended the steep bank, keen to see how far up West Down this outcrop ventured. It was an uncertain route up unstable ground, further up other outlying outcrops were visible. The area merits a visit when the sunlight is less harsh and the leaves have fallen to reveal their secrets.

Raven Rock (Walkham) - eastern outlying outcrop
Raven Rock (Walkham) - eastern outlying outcrop

I found a route out onto the top of the outcrop, out of the trees, where good views of the Walkham valley can be enjoyed. The down was peppered with gorse, but there was still enough grass between each bush to explore.

Raven Rock (Walkham) top
Raven Rock (Walkham) top

View from Raven Rock (Walkham) top
View from Raven Rock (Walkham) top

Returning to the trees, and gingerly making my descent back to the valley floor, I spotted an odd structure built up close to the eastern side of Raven Rock. Further investigation revealed it was the base of a chimney for West Down Copper Mine. I was also told that there was a burning house below and the flue can be traced up to the base. I must admit, I didn't spot the flue.

Structure built half way up Raven Rock (Walkham) eastern side
Base of chimney built half way up Raven Rock (Walkham) eastern side

Looking back up Raven Rock (Walkham) eastern side
Looking back up Raven Rock (Walkham) eastern side

Back to the path, as I followed it I discovered the outcrop was more extensive than first appeared. Reaching its western side, I could see a much more dramatic crag, and more in keeping with the description given by Mrs. Bray. I was very impressed by this truly "noble" rock.

Raven Rock (Walkham) western side
Raven Rock (Walkham) western side

Raven Rock (Walkham) - western side
Raven Rock (Walkham) western side

Further on, the path meets the drive to Buckator Farm and a short distance up the hill, Buckator itself sits within the trees. I did wonder if this may have been the site of Raven Rock, but it is clearly not as impressive or noticeable as the earlier find. Indeed, Mrs. Bray failed to give it a mention.

Buckator
Buckator

I set out to scale it, finding a shaded carpet of moss and grass on its top. I stopped for a bite to eat in this secluded spot, admiring the branch framed views of Roborough Down on the other side of the Walkham.

Atop Buckator
Buckator top

View across the Walkham from Buckator
View across the Walkham from Buckator
Approaching Double Waters
Approaching Double Water

Back on the track, I followed it passed the farm, leaving the drive to venture back towards the bank of the river. 

Mrs. Bray picks up the scene; "Passing the base of the Raven Rock, you still follow the windings of the Walkham till you arrive at the foot of a second acclivity, composed of rocks in forms the most picturesque and fantastic that can be imagined. These have of late been rendered peculiarly interesting in consequence of their having become the favourite haunt of a flock of goats. They make the scene alive ; and to view them standing sometimes on the edges of the crags (where you would fancy the creatures could scarcely find footing), to see them gambol or climb from one mass to another, affords a most lively picture of animal enjoyment."

No goats today, but I can imagine they would enjoy this place. The path takes you up through a gap in Goat Rock, where you get your first view of the River Tavy, just before it meets the Walkham.

Goat Rock Gap
Goat Rock Gap

Goat Rock
Goat Rock
Once gain, Mrs. Bray describes it eloquently; "The junction of the streams, which is not far off, forming a thousand rashes of water foaming over a broken bed, the cliffs around, the trees, which in some places overhang the banks, and the opening of the magnificent vista of rock, height, river, and wood that constitute the valley, where the cave and mine of the Virtuous Lady are situated, present altogether such a scene as the pencil alone could attempt to portray, so as to give any distinct idea of its character."

Double Waters - where Walkham meets Tavy
Double Waters - where Tavy meets the Walkham

The location was busy, like much of the Walkham today, the cool swimming spots offering respite from the high temperatures. I shy from the chatter of the crowds and moved on quickly.

Clam over the Walkham at Double Waters
Clam over the Walkham at Double Waters

Crossing the clam across the Walkham, back into Dartmoor, I left Double Waters and Mrs. Bray no longer accompanied me. I followed the lane passed Buck Tor, to the right, just before you reach the house of the same name.

Buck Tor
Buck Tor

Buck Tor
Buck Tor

Now the lane climbs up onto Roborough Down. Reaching the open ground the heat was immediately apparent. I craved the river but would not see it for the remainder of the walk, having to be content with the shade of woodland a kilometre later, on the descent to the car park.

Hot day on the Roborough Down
Hot day on Roborough Down
Fox Glove
Foxglove

A lovely walk, one I will do again, with so much to see. I especially want a more detailed look at Raven Rock when the foliage has fallen.

Today's route: